Based on a true story set in the early 1980s, The Iron Claw follows the Von Erich brothers and their journey within the world of professional wrestling. Firstly, we are taken back in time to glimpse wrestling icon Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany), delivering a final blow using ‘The Iron Claw’, a move where he grabs the opponent by the head with a hand in the figure of a claw. While Holt’s career was memorable and successful, he was never given a proper shot at the championship title.
We then follow Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron), the son of the legendary Fritz. Kevin has spent his life growing up with his brothers and being trained by his father to become a professional wrestler, who hopes his sons will one day get a shot at the championship. Kevin’s brother, David (Harris Dickinson), is also passionate about wrestling. One of Kevin’s other brothers, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), is currently away competing in the Summer Olympics, while Mike (Stanley Simons) is more passionate about pursuing a music career. In due time, Kevin is ready to take his career to the next step, and along the way, he meets Pam (Lily James), with whom he forms a relationship. Kevin has always feared that he and his family were cursed, but because of his passion for wrestling, Kevin continues to push forward. Kevin also receives enormous pressure from his father, who is a menace to his family in his passion to succeed. Can Kevin become the next wrestling champion, or will tragedy continue to plague his family?
The Iron Claw isn’t just a wrestling film with young men and giant muscles; it’s far more significant than expected. The genre here is heavy drama and a biography based on actual events. I wasn’t aware of the true story and found many moments throughout the film profoundly shocking and saddening. When the credits rolled, I was left in the cinema with a heavy heart and a lingering afterthought.
Performance-wise, there’s a lot to praise. Actor Zac Efron, as Kevin, has physically transformed himself into something we haven’t seen him do on the big screen. He’s highly convincing, and it’s a smashing performance portraying a professional wrestler. His chemistry with his brothers is believable throughout the film. Another standout performance is Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, who represents a heartless, selfish, ruthless, and harsh man with solid determination to fulfil his lifelong dream through his sons, no matter the cost. The visuals are perfect, including the costume designs reflecting the 1980s.
With a runtime of over two hours, I was engaged with the movie for most of the duration. However, when tragedy is introduced, key details and outcomes felt slightly predictable to me, particularly in the second and third acts. While Zac Efron displays a remarkable physical transformation, some line deliveries seem wooden but could be based on the mannerisms of the real-life character he portrays in the film.
Overall, you’ll be in for a shock if you were expecting an action-packed film with prominent, muscled men wrestling for the entire duration. The Iron Claw is far more significant than a wrestling movie. It’s a true story of brokenness and strife within one family. It’s not an easy watch; many moments are heavy, shocking, and saddening. As the film ends, it’s possible not to walk away without having lengthy afterthoughts. Performances from all are powerful and unforgettable, with special mention for both Zac Efron and Holt McCallany. If you’re seeking a hard-hitting drama that will “claw” at your heart, this one comes highly recommended.
The Iron Claw (2023) will be available in Austrian cinemas starting January 18th.